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Ugly Creatures: The PHOENIX of Namibian Music

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Pre-independence Namibia was laden with great bands – people who actually played music instruments and entertained the enthusiastic audiences with beautiful performances week in and week out.

Back in the days people loved and, in some instances, worshipped musicians the same way football fans over the world would rave over Christian Ronaldo or Lionel Messi today.

In fact, there was lots of debate about which was the best band in Namibia at the time – so much so that event organisers decided to stage a Battle of the Bands competition .

All the top bands from all over the country converged at the Katutura Community Hall, where they battled it out for the ultimate crown as the best music band in the country.

Osibisa Scream from Lüderitz – yes, the Bucht also had a dynamic band – emerged as the winners, with Walvis Bay-based Children from Pluto (CFP) finishing as runners-up.

However, Ugly Creatures, who were generally considered as the top band in the country at the time, were conspicuous in their absence from the event.

Like the phoenix, Ugly Creatures re-emerged on the Namibian music scene in 2014 after a more than 40-year sabbatical.

During a recent interview with The Weekender, bassist Helois //Hoabeb, one of the surviving members of the band, explained that they chose not to enter a competition which was not marked by impartiality and honesty.

“Many people don’t know the real reason why we decided not to enter the competition and we were labelled stubborn and arrogant without giving us an opportunity to explain ourselves. The organisers were apparently out to determine the best group in the country.

“Nothing about the competition was transparent. Some of the so-called judges were directly or indirectly linked with some of the participating bands. Also, all the bands whether they played rock, R&B or pop, were just thrown into one pool,” //Hoabeb complained.

The multi-instrumentalist noted that most of the bands were already complaining that the Uglies held themselves in high regard because they could read and write notes.

“Of course, we considered ourselves miles apart from our peers at the time. Each member of our group could play two or more instruments and we could alternate as much as we wished without disturbing the solidity of the band.

“We composed our own songs, in fact, we have three albums to our name. Something that most of the bands of our era could only dream about. Every band member perfected his craft and we also had the best lead vocalist in the country,” he said.

The band released hits such as 
’//Khowa Am Dao Amte’, ‘Not Tonight’, ‘Shirley’, ‘Friends Of Mine’, ‘Give Your Heart’, ‘!Erere’, ‘Exit To Artist Exist’ and the fabulous ‘Creatures Of the Earth’, easily one of the best songs ever recorded by a Namibian band.

Mannecky Khoe-Aob, former Martin Luther High School pupil and co-founding member of the band M-Connections, describes Ugly Creatures’ self-titled album, which was initially released in the 1970s, as “way ahead of its time”.

“A lot of people don’t realise that but for me the album ‘Ugly Creatures’ is a classic piece of work and those guys pull together an album which was way ahead of its time, considering the year it was released, because the music is still relevant today,” says Khoe-Aob, who is also a keyboard player of note.

//Hoabeb said that late lead singer Joni Adams was a fantastic singer who knew the lyrics of the songs he sang because he had an incredible command of the English language. He also played the saxophone.

In Baby Doeseb, the Uglies have one of the most solid lead guitarists in the country, someone who is never overelaborative with his play.

On drums, many people would agree that Siegfried Jomo !Hoaseb is undoubtedly the best ever to come out of the country. !Hoaseb also received the opportunity of a lifetime when he played with South African super Afro-rock group Harari, when they toured Namibia in the 80s.

The cool, calm and calculated late Jephta !Noabeb used to pull the bass strings before //Hoabeb, and the stocky entertainer also doubled up as the band leader at one point.

On rhythm guitar was the flamboyant Elvis Afrikaner, a Mbaqanga guitarist of note, who intially started as the band’s lead guitarist before the arrival of young Baby Doeseb.

Band leader Axali Doeseb, the composer of the Namibian national anthem, and Theodor Keister, who replaced his brother Emil Keister, were on the main and second keyboards, respectively.

The late trumpeter Nicro //Hoabeb, the other leader of the band and elder brother of Helois //Hoabeb, formed part of the band’s brass section together with Joni Adams.

Part-time musician Esau Nowaseb wrapped it up by saying that unlike the other groups of their era, Ugly Creatures used brass instruments to make them stand out from the rest.

“The group comes from a gospel background and most of its members were still involved in church choirs after they converted into a pop group back in the mid-70s. The likes of Nicro on trumpet and Joni on sax made the Uglies sound very unique.

“All the band members were qualified instrumentalists who have learned to read music from their music teacher, one mister Schneider, during their days at Martin Luther High School,” noted Nowaseb, who was also a member of the Uglies’ feeder band, Creation.

The current line-up of Ugly Creatures is: Alphie Witbooi (piano), Baby Doeseb (guitar), Esme Katjikuru (vocals), Oompie Kavari (vocals), Jerome Cloete (brass), Jomo !Haoseb (drums), Waldo Xoagub (keyboard), Vulus Tsai (brass), Tony !Haoseb (alto saxophone) and Helois //Hoabeb (bass).



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